INNOCENCE: Texas Forensic Science Commission Closes Case of Possible Innocence

The Texas Forensic Science Commission recently closed its inquiry into the case of Cameron Todd Willingham (pictured), who was executed in Texas in 2004. The Commission was told by the Texas Attorney General that it did not have jurisdiction to rule on the Willingham case. Hence, in its final report on October 28 on the matter, it declined to issue any finding regarding allegations of negligence or misconduct by the City of Corsicana or the Texas State Fire Marshal in the Willingham matter. The Commission, however, acknowledged that outdated science regarding arsons played a role in Willingham’s 1991 murder conviction. Willingham was convicted of setting the fire that killed his three daughters. Since then, modern fire experts have determined that none of the more than 20 arson indicators identified by the standards of arson science in 1991 are reliable evidence of intentional fire. Experts say that the cause of fire should have been “undetermined.” Stephen Saloom, policy director for the Innocence Project in New York, said, “The world should now know that the evidence relied upon to convict and execute Cameron Todd Willingham for the fire that killed his daughters was based on scientifically invalid and unreliable evidence.” The Commission’s final report also included a commitment from the state fire marshal’s office to review old arson rulings to determine whether convictions were based on the now-debunked science.”

(C. Lindell, “Willingham inquiry ends, but effects linger,” Austin American-Statesman, October 29, 2011; see also “Addendum To The April 15, 2011 Report Of The Texas Forensic Science Commission—Willingham/Willis Investigation,” October 28, 2011 ). See Innocence and Studies.